Book Review — This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

I have read to of Klein’s other books and will admit none of them read as well as Shock Doctrine. This Changes Everything reads more like a thesis than a marketed book. Nearly half of the book is documentation and source material. If Klein says it, she backs it up.

My thoughts: The problem is not so much capitalism, but what capitalism has become. Capitalism has had its problems from sweatshops to slavery. America prides itself on being a capitalist nation, but that in itself is a misnomer. Roads, police, air space, food, education, snow removal, water and sewage are all controlled by one of the several layers of government and paid for by public funds. Many people hate socialism, unless it is their water, their children’s education, their roads with potholes.

Klein’s view of capitalism is the current system we are experiencing. Not to sound archaic but the system was much more local in the past. Local areas provided are fairly closed loop. You bought something and you expected it to last. You visited bakers, butchers, and farmers markets. This system worked well until people found that bigger was better. Bigger stores meant cheaper prices. Chains grew Walmart came into play. Things still went ok because things were still made at home. The next step was imports, which were cheaper, but not produced at home — this cost jobs. America started to think free trade might not be in its interest. Protective tariffs tried to save industry, but industry moved overseas. WTO and NAFTA came about to insure free (or fair) trade. The move was to globalization. This was the system of efficiency. Let each nation build what it builds best and trade. Win-win for everyone.

The problem with increased efficiency is there are much more finished goods being produced everyone bought what they needed. What to do after everyone has what they need? How many televisions, cars, or pairs of shoes does one person need? Advertise, make cosmetic changes, create a want and when that doesn’t work planned obsolesce. More manufacturing, more power consumption, more cars, and a new cell phone every two years. More waste, more coal power plants. It’s ok to be poor, you have an Iphone.

The system puts a strain on the planet. Ninety-seven percent of the scientist agree that man made climate change is real. The dissent does not present much of a case, except for things like if you live in Montana global warming will give better crop yields and longer growing seasons. It is mostly the poor that will need to adapt because the poor live in hot climates. (This Texas resident really questions that logic).

A big part of the problem is the politicization of the problem. In the 1990s, both parties recognized the problem. Newt Gingrich spoke on needing to change our ways. That has all changed and the issue has become partisan, much like school vouchers or tax cuts. Climate change, however, cannot be legislated away. If science is right, there will be a tipping point where no matter what we do, we won’t be able to fix, stop, or slow climate change.

When countries move to become green they are attacked. In 2010 United States challenged China wind power program because it was protectionist. Likewise, the Indian Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission was challenged because it encouraged local industry. Even more outrageous was the US challenge against Quebec legislation banning fracking. It was challenged on the grounds that it cut off gas resources to potential industries. These actions may sound a bit odd, but it is little different from colonization. National sovereignty is becoming a thing of the past.

Mass transportation systems are another topic mentioned in cutting greenhouse gasses. America calls investing in public transportation subsidies, but using tax money to build new roads is called an investment.

Change can come, but it needs to be a movement. Slavery was not crisis for the American elites, until abolition became a movement. Civil rights was not an issue for many until Northerners saw the dogs and fire hoses turned on American citizens. The First Nation peoples of Canada are making progress in stopping pipelines, tar fields, and mining on their lands. It seems to be making a difference.

Klein uses environmental issues to attack the “capitalism” we have today. This book is filled with documented information. The reading can be a bit dry and even burdensome at times but well worth the read. Klein tackles both the environment (and she does not hesitate to call out the failures of environmental organizations) and the economy. This Changes Everything is a call to remember when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging.

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